Study Investigates Link Between Social Competency
> 3/25/2008 11:29:25 AM

When a child or teen struggles with the symptoms of depression or anxiety, their social interactions and peer relationships may also be adversely affected, and difficulty with peer acceptance and forming friendships can result. Conversely, in a recent longitudinal study, a team of researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of Minnesota have demonstrated that problems with social interactions could be contributing factors in the development of depression and anxiety.

The study, published in the current issue of the journal Child Development, used data from the longitudinal Project Competence study, an investigation of competence and resiliency in over 200 children recruited from an urban school district. The subjects, who were 8 through 12 years of age at the study's start, were interviewed 7, 10, and 20 years after an initial assessment. They were tested on measures of internalizing symptoms, which include the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal. Additionally, the researchers used the subjects' interviews as well as reports from parents and teachers to examine the subjects' social tendencies and their ability to form relationships.

In considering how social competence and internalizing symptoms influence each other, the researchers found that for many of the subjects, these factors remained stable over time. Those who scored high on measures of social competency in childhood retained their social skills throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Children who struggled with anxiety of depression, on the other hand, had a higher risk of experiencing these same internalizing problems as teens and as adults. Additionally, the researchers found that subjects who had had low scores on measures of social competence as children were also more likely to struggle with internalizing problems as they aged. These results remained significant even when the researchers controlled for other factors that could have been involved, including intelligence, social class, and behavioral problems like lying, stealing, and fighting. Their findings support previous studies in which researchers have demonstrated that negative social experiences can be predictive of depression and anxiety.

The relationship between internalizing symptoms and social interaction is complex, but in summarizing their results, the researchers of this current study explain that social interactions can greatly impact a child's mental well-being, and this influence may be especially potent during the transitional years that lead from adolescence to adulthood. Still, depression and anxiety could result from the interplay of multiple factors, and while social problems may partially explain some cases of depression or anxiety, these internalizing symptoms could also fuel the individual's social problems. The researchers point out that identifying those students who are at risk for depression or anxiety because of difficulties with social interactions could be beneficial. Programs specifically designed to help students develop positive relationships could help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in some students and may prevent future problems.

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